The Paris Enigma

Free The Paris Enigma by Pablo De Santis

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Authors: Pablo De Santis
man in a blue uniform blocked my way. But all I had to do was say Arzaky’s name and he stepped to one side, almost reverently. I thought that there was no greater glory in life than making your own name a secret password capable of changing minds and opening doors. I went down to the parlor with the pleasure that conspirators must feel with the thought of every secret and symbol that proves they are involved in something beyond the trivial.
    The detectives were seated in the center of the underground parlor. Around them were the assistants, some in chairs, others standing. They nodded their heads in greeting, and I responded with the typical nervousness of someone who bursts into a meeting and worries that they’re too early, or late, or inappropriately dressed.
    Arzaky stood up and said, “Before we begin, gentlemen, I would like to remind you that my cases are still empty and awaiting your artifacts. This fair is a celebration of your intelligence, not your indifference.”
    â€œWe’ll send our brains in formaldehyde,” said a detective whose hands were covered in bright rings with colored stones. From his accent, I guessed that it was Magrelli, the Eye of Rome.
    â€œIn my case, I’ll send the brain of my assistant Dandavi, who increasingly does my thinking for me,” said Caleb Lawson. Tall, with a big nose, he looked at the world through the smoke of his meerschaum pipe, which was shaped like a question mark. He was identical to the illustrations that accompanied his adventures.
    â€œWhat could we display?” asked Zagala, the Portuguese detective. “A magnifying glass? Our work is abstraction, logic. We are the only profession with nothing to show, because our most precious instruments are invisible.”
    There was a murmur of agreement, until Arzaky’s voice rose above it.
    â€œI didn’t know I was in a meeting of purists. Magrelli, you have the largest archive of criminal anthropology in Italy, supervised by Cesare Lombroso himself. And that’s not to mention the delicate instruments that you use to measure ears, skulls, and noses. Are theyinvisible, as Zagala says? And you, Dr. Lawson, you never leave London without your portable microscope. If you only had one I wouldn’t ask you to lend it, but I know that you collect them. You even have microscopes that can be seen only with a microscope! And you’ve been acquiring those optical instruments that let you work in the fog for years.” Arzaky pointed to a tall man, who was winding his watch. “Tobias Hatter, a native of Nuremberg, has given our trade at least forty-seven toys, rumors of which provoke dread in even the worst German criminals. When the killer Maccarius threatened you with a butcher’s knife, didn’t you let an innocent toy soldier open fire? Wasn’t it you who designed a music box whose melody tormented murderers’ sleepless nights and forced them to confess? And Sakawa, where is my invisible friend Sakawa…?”
    The Japanese detective appeared out of nowhere. He was white-haired, much shorter than his assistant, Okano, and so thin he couldn’t have weighed more than a boy.
    â€œDon’t you usually contemplate the stones in your Sand Garden, and the Screen of Twelve Figures, to help you think? Aren’t your thoughts led by the demons painted on the screen?”
    The Japanese detective bowed his head as an apology and said, “I like the empty cases: they say more about us than all the instruments we could fill them with. But I know that won’t sit well with all the curious souls who come to visit our little exhibition. I devoted many hours of thought to what I should put in the space allotted to me, but I still haven’t decided. I don’t want to come across as eccentric. I’d prefer to show something more…”
    â€œI know. You, from the East, want to show something Western; Lawson, who works with science, would be

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